Interior designer

 13 March 2013

Interior designers work with others to design building interiors. These can be commercial, residential, public sector or heritage sites.

Interior designers need an in-depth understanding of architecture and buildings as well as excellent design skills.
Interior designers need an in-depth understanding of architecture and buildings as well as excellent design skills.

Interior designers are involved in the design of the interiors of buildings.

These can include residential accommodation, such as houses and flats, and commercial properties of all kinds, including offices, restaurants, cruise liners, bars and hotels, schools, prisons, museums and historic buildings.

What is the job like?

The work of an interior designer varies greatly according to the setting in which they work:

  1. In the commercial setting interior designers often work on very large projects as part of a team, and work closely with architects, surveyors, structural engineers and building contractors. Interior designers help to develop brand strategies for the commercial sector, including retail and leisure
  1. In the residential setting interior designers may also project manage the work of contractors, and sometimes work with architects, surveyors and structural engineers.

Interior designers may create a look from the highly contemporary to more traditional and period designs, depending on the age of the building and the client’s needs.

Your work will usually involve:

  • Working closely with the client to analyse the brief and to develop the design and spatial arrangement.
  • Holding meetings with the client to present ideas, mood boards, sample materials, colours, layouts and costings and amending designs where necessary.
  • Using computer assisted design (CAD) to prepare detailed drawings and occasionally making 3D models.
  • Confirming that the designs and associated building work meet building regulations.
  • Agreeing a budget with the client and keeping close track of expenditure.
  • Ensuring the work of building contactors is completed to the highest standards and to agreed deadlines.

How do I become an interior designer?

You will need:

  • an in-depth understanding of architecture and buildings as well as excellent design skills
  • an understanding of technical drawing –  both plans and sections, and how structures go together
  • commercial ability and good numeracy in order to manage budgets
  • the ability to multi-task and manage conflicting priorities
  • a willingness to work effectively with people at all levels
  • excellent team-working, communication and negotiation skills.

Interior design is a highly competitive career and you will need to demonstrate an interest in the built environment. Take every opportunity to experience different kinds of interiors, from historical buildings and churches to contemporary interiors and shops.

A work experience placement within an interior design company will also provide you with very valuable experience.

A strong portfolio is part of the selection process for interior design courses. It should demonstrate:

  • an exploration of 3D sculptural form or other compositions such as abstract compositional models
  • a diagrammatical development of ideas – including both visual and written information
  • a high degree of creativity, drawing ability and original ideas
  • how to analyse an issue and develop a form with an understanding of its function – examples include a product to make people’s lives easier or a children’s toy.

Include photographs, CAD designs and hand drawings. Be very selective – most universities and art colleges will only look at a small sample of your work.

If you have had experience of designing for interiors then also include this, but make sure that everything is catalogued including the costings and preferably a survey of the existing space.


Many short courses are aimed at people wanting to make a hobby out of interior design rather than a career.

The interview is an important part of the selection process for interior design degree courses. You will need to demonstrate a passion for the subject, and so it is important to do your research thoroughly.

Aim to read design magazines such as Blue Print and Frame before the interview if possible.

A broad understanding of the context of interior design is important, and how this extends well beyond the home environment.

Relevant school subjects include Art and Design, Graphic Design, Photography, Design and Technology, and Business Studies.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Courses are available at various levels. However, many short courses are aimed at people wanting to make a hobby out of interior design rather than a career. Courses with a strong technical element will make you much more employable.

Recognised courses in interior design include:

  • BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Interior Design) Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Architecture, Interior and Product Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Technology and Interior Design).

The BTEC level 3 courses last for two years full-time and are an alternative to A levels. You will need a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes or equivalent level 2 qualification, such as the BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

The BTEC level 3 courses can lead onto higher education courses, such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses.

It is also possible to progress onto a level 3 qualification from a level 2 qualification such as a BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

Degree courses

Degree courses in interiors are listed on the UCAS website. Titles include:

  • BA Interior Architecture
  • BA Interior Design
  • BA Spatial Design.

 Research course content very carefully as courses vary in their emphasis.

The entry requirements for a degree are a minimum of two A levels or equivalent, such as a Level 3 Diploma plus a portfolio. Some universities may ask for three A levels, often at specified grades.

Another route to degree courses in Interior Design is via a one-year foundation course in Art and Design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels or equivalent.


Apprenticeships in interior design are sometimes available.

Vacancies may be found in the 'Design' section of 'Arts, Media and Publishing'.

What will I earn?

Junior interior designers can expect to earn around £16,000 to £22,000.

Experienced interior designers may earn between £30,000 and £35,000. Very experienced interior designers can earn between £45,000 and £55,000.

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.

Also of interest

Stay updated

Sign up for our weekly careers newsletter

View our privacy policy.

Related events & opportunities